The “school run” has been a hot topic since the Evening News reported the headteacher at Heriot’s tackling head-on what he describes as the selfish behaviour of some parents, clogging up busy city streets and parking dangerously in dropping children off at school by car.
The problem is not unique to private schools. At a number of state primaries, the city council has designated nearby streets as out of bounds to parents’ cars at the start and end of the school day, in a bid to improve road safety for all.
However, the annual “Hands Up” survey from Sustrans shows graphically that private schools have a much greater problem to deal with.
In state schools, just over 50 per cent of pupils get to school by active travel (walking, cycling or scooting), but it is only 17.6 per cent in private schools. By contrast, 22.1 per cent of state school pupils get driven by a car, while in private schools it is 46.2 per cent. Since the Hands Up surveys began in 2008, the number of private school pupils being taken to school by car has risen from 42.4 per cent.
These are fairly stark comparisons. Private schools claim that their statistics are because they don’t have geographical catchment areas and pupils can come from far and wide. But since the state schools’ information has some very remote communities in it too, this hardly explains the dramatic contrast. Choice rather than necessity seems, literally, to be the driver. And the problem is that, at peak times for traffic congestion, it adds thousands of cars to already crowded streets, as well as causing the kind of parking and neighbour problems which the head at Heriot’s has highlighted.
So, are we just stuck with it?
Let’s assume not. The scale of the change needed in private schools means that it will take more than a few exasperated words from senior school staff. Every school – private or state – should have a school travel plan. The first job of that travel plan should be to ensure that pupils and staff can get to and from school safely and responsibly.
Families who choose active travel or public transport should be applauded and encouraged by the schools. Can schools look at reward or incentive schemes to take that further? Where car use is the only option, the drop-off point should be well away from the school. That, of course, will leave the space free for essential vehicles like school buses or those transporting disabled children.
So I look forward to the school communities really heeding the headteacher’s advice.
Claire Miller is the Green Candidate for Edinburgh City Centre Ward in May’s council’s election.